William Radley reflects on the war on terror.

The War on Terror


It is the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks reminding us of how the world changed which begs the question, where did this begin and were the efforts of the US government justifiable?

Arguably the most conflicted area during the 1970s and 80s was Afghanistan. Efforts of the Afghanistan people to resist soviet occupation was aligned with American involvement, this highlights the first western intervention within this area motivated to contain communism in an uncertain time of ideologies. Al-Qaeda specifically was born out of the soviet-jihad fighting the occupation of the Muslim territory. After severe casualties the soviets eventually pulled out of the region, igniting a new step in Afghan rule. The end of American occupation who arguably left the country in ruins angered little civilians unlike radical thinkers such as Osama Bin Laden. A very wealthy member of an influential member at the time was committed aiding the Afghans in ending military occupation. However, Bin Laden had the view that once the soviets were defeated, there was another super power which was a threat to their way of life, the United States. Bin Laden who led his original small group used his assets and money at his disposal to unify small groups with the radical view of the US being the common enemy. Bin Laden used examples like the rubble left behind from the soviet war to highlight the ill treatment of civilians, as well as America’s economic needs for oil in the middle east and the threat to the Muslim traditional way of life all to sway hearts, minds and gather followers. Questions that arise pre-9/11 is was the US alerted beforehand and did they act accordingly?

Perhaps the US should have left the state of Afghanistan in a better position, which may not have radicalised so many civilians but at the time it didn’t seem feasible to continue occupation. Domestically it is apparent that not enough surveillance was used to target potential terrorists. 2 of the 11 plane hijackers entered the states on visas descripting their birthplace of Pakistan, this incorrect information was not flagged by NSA and as a result were able to retrieve flight training domestically. Airport security prior to the attacks was not strict enough on precautionary measures allowing the hijackers to take on weapons. Due to the faults in the system new measures have been taken place such as locked cockpit doors to prevent and deter future hijackings.

The national reaction to the attack some will argue was justified while some will argue over top. The after math sparked a fast reaction by the US government to hunt down Bin Laden and known associates. However, the methods of this mission is often declared unconstitutional due to the mishandled treatment of prisoners. Guantanamo Bay off the edge of Cuba is at the heart of this. To have some background information the Geneva Convention established after the First World War ensures the protection of prisoners but the problem is these suspected terrorists were continuously named detainees, essentially a loophole in the rulebook. It is arguable that many acts that took place such as ‘enhanced integration tactics’ were in fact torturous such as assault and waterboarding. This was controversial as it infringed the 8th Amendment protecting human rights and values. In fact under Obama released over 200 prisoners highlighting the poor care, treatment of people who were in fact not terrorists. This shows the recklessness of the US government, not to mention the collateral that follows in Afghanistan, potentially radicalising more people. Internally the NSA increased surveillance domestically, this included wiretapping and targeting/persecuting specifically people of Islam. The 10 year hunt for Bin Laden resulted in the destruction of many Afghan villages, loss of life on both sides and huge expenditure. While it is important to acknowledge that catching Bin Laden, the use of co-ordinated drone strikes without the permission of Congress was not properly calculated. Not to mention extends the powers of the President as shown under Bush and Obama begging the question how constitutional these acts of force were.

While I have only briefly covered the beginning, action and aftermath of the September 11th terror attacks it is clear of the unconstitutional means to complete the mission in Afghanistan but if justified is still a question debated due to the spark it has ignited considering Terrorism. With the US currently withdrawing troops in Afghanistan it is critical that what decisions made now are well debated as they will have a long-lasting effect on global politics.